In EARLY SNOWFALL ( Christmas music, all but the title song familiar to most of us, is given a fresh makeover by a peerless jazz quintet – Rick VanMatre on saxes and flute, Rusty Burge on vibraphone, Michael Sharte on bass, John Taylor on drums – in arrangements by Kim Pensyl that elegantly mine unpredictable harmonic twists and turns next to inventive riffs.

Navona Records (, brought out MI PALPITA IL COR, an elegant new release of early vocal and instrumental music by Steffani, Sammartini, Handel, Telemann and Rameau, featuring the members of Musica Pacifica, a renowned ensemble that specializes in early music, playing ancient or replicas of old instruments in their work.  Soprano Dominique Labelle ( is impressively featured in three cantatas that provide many of the album’s delights.

I put THE POSTCARD SESSIONS ( on my CD player and one hour later I was a fan of the Harrington/Loewen Duo, a perfect pairing of saxophonist Allen Harrington and pianist Laura Loewen who play chamber music of the highest order, whether taking on the romantic lyricism of Robert Schumann’s Drei Romanzen, op. 94, or the Argentine urbanity of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion.

TO KEEP THE DARK AWAY  ( features an exciting mix of the contemporary and the Romantic in piano literature. Gayle Martin’s playing is classically elegant in selections by Schumann and Wagner. But it is the intricately beautiful new music of Judith Shatin and Martin’s playing of it that which makes this album so very special.

COULOUIR is defined by more than one dictionary as a steep gradient in mountainous terrain that provides a way up into higher ground. The Canadian duo of cellist Ariel Barnes and harpist Heidi Krutzen (www.couloir.CA) climb musical heights in this most recent exploration of the music of James Maxwell and Nico Muhly. The Ravello ( release is a keeper for  all fans of new music.

ABRAZO: THE HAVANA SESSIONS – a double CD from Parma Records’s new Ansonica label ( ) features works for big band, small jazz combo, choir, and chamber ensembles by Bunny Beck, Roger Bourland, Donald Bowyer, Margaret Brandman, John Carollo, Timothy Miller, Mel Mobley, and Michael Murray performed by members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, the Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere, Vocal Luna  and Schola Cantorum Coralina. This recording is more than just a terrific opportunity for Parma Records’s new Ansonica label to tap into the unexplored corners of Cuban and Cuban-inspired music that lies waiting to be played by musicians living just 90 miles from our shores.

DREAM VAPORS is composer Rain Worthington’s first full-length solo CD ( The neatly-packaged CD, complete with press quotes and biographical information on the composer, features seven orchestral pieces ranging in length from little over six minutes to slightly longer than ten. This is an extraordinary sampler of the original work of an American composer fully deserving of this solo showcase.

Navona Records ( released  BLURRED BOUNDARIES, a collection of new compositions impressively played by the  Apollo Chamber Players (, among them Libby Larsen’s Sorrow Song and Jubilee, Erberk Eryilmaz’s Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan, and Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo. With this album, the Apollo Chamber Players make their mark as not only an ensemble of quality but as loyal supporters and players of new and innovative music.








Our ever-resourceful friends at NAVONA RECORDS just came out with DASHING – SOUNDS OF THE SEASON. ( Catalog #: NV6055)

For those of us already saturated with clichéd renditions of Christmas warhorses I heartily recommend DASHING as a delightful antidote to Christmas overload.

Among the many gems in the 14-track album, Petr Vronsky and his Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra make lively music to put one in high spirits in David Tanner’s A Visit from St. Nicholas with Kerry Statton neatly providing the narrative text.

Delvyn Case’s Rocket Sleigh. O Holy Night, with composer Tanner on soprano sax and the Moravians provide just the right amount of sentiment without sap.

The closing track of the CD , with the Moravians in fine form, lets us be home for Christmas in a note-perfect A Christmas Celebration by Timothy Lee Miller.

The members of the Stanbery Singers – an American chamber choir led by Paul Stanbery – sing with vitality in half of the album’s tracks, offering imaginatively-arranged versions of traditional melodies and altogether lovely original compositions by L. Peter Deutsch, Christopher J. Hoh, Philip Rhodes and James Shrader.

In one of our many favorite moments on the CD The Salt Lake Jazz Orchestra takes God Rest You Merry Gentlemen in Henry Wolking’s nifty arrangement and sends it sky high after a laid-back start, then morphing it into a Latin-inflected section, then briefly into a jazz waltz, then back into a straight-ahead section, proving to all that Christmas music can be many things to all kinds of music lovers.

The album is engineered and packaged in the world class manner that Navona Records always pulls off, and is available from them. ( ) It can also checked out for highlights on

To the good people at Navona Records, a Merry Christmas!


Here, in random order are our 2016 favorite Cincinnati arts events.

untitled In January, in the latest creation by MamLuft&Co. Dance, nine dancers riveted attention during the two halves of Double/Sided, an evening-long exploration of the chaotic nature of human relationships.

JOHNSON, AMYth In a concert performance of Strauss’ Salome, soprano Amy Johnson took on this volcanic assignment brilliantly, conquering its perils with an impressive command of the role’s vocal and dramatic complexities. In the same performance bass-baritone Kenneth Shaw sang the role of John the Baptist with stentorian authority and portrayed the part of the doomed prophet with his usual attention to the subtleties of text.

Jackie Stevens In March the highlight was Kenneth Shaw’s Opera d’Arte production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda . In  the role of the doomed Mary, Queen of Scotland, the young  Sarah Vautour, under the direction of Amy Johnson, combined nobility of bearing, acting chops, and a voice and technical ease that bore an uncanny resemblance to the young Beverly Sills.

Tenor Rodrick Dixon sang a 30-minute pre-concert recital at the May Festival with the superb pianist Michael Chertok. Dixon’s singing was glorious and his artistic instincts precise and tasteful. Art Song seems to be enjoying a welcome comeback. Samuel Martin‘s Cincinnati Song Initiative  had an auspicious start in an all-American song recital  featuring several very promising young singers in the gallery space at the Aronoff Center. Nadine Sierra sang the closing concert of Matinee Musicale with radiant tone and acute sensibility in a wide-ranging program with the support of the superb pianist Bryan WagornPedro Arroyo in two recitals at CCM proved himself more than capable of handling a wide ranging repertory of songs in several languages and styles with finesse and assured vocalism. Mexican mezzo-soprano PauLina Villareal sounded perfectly at home in a couple of recitals also at CCM, impressively singing everything from Kurt Weill cabaret pieces to Cuban salon songs to a contemporary work in which she acted as both singer and percussionist.

11corinna-master675 The Cincinnati Opera featured a very fine Fidelio and one of the best productions of Tosca in memory. But it was the astounding Fellow Travelers the one event that proved truly remarkable with an all-American cast of veteran pros and young singers announcing to the unbelievers that contemporary opera is alive and well.

tom-jones-_-24At CCM, They Were You was a sheer delight. Aubrey Berg put together a gem of a revue that celebrated the works of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt , featuring a cast of superb singing actors and the peerless Steve Goers at the piano.

ECKART PREU The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra came back in the summer with a four-concert season  The level of the work reassured us that the CCO is here to stay. Add to that the appointment of Eckard Preu as its musical director and rest assured that the future looks bright for our “second” orchestra.

Note: Most of the events on this list were reviewed for and, in some cases, for If interested you can find the original reviews in both websites.



The CD EARLY SNOWFALL just reached my hands (available from WWW.SUMMITRECORDS.COM)

It did as a gift from Kim Pensyl, and there’s nothing like a gift of music to cement a new friendship.

Courtly, clean shaven and trim, Pensyl does not project the kind of image many might associate with jazz musicians. Nor does his music satisfy most wrongheaded notions of what jazz is.

But we’ll have more about that in a moment…

Now, to both qualify and disqualify me, here are a couple of plain facts: 1) I love all kinds of music. 2) I am not a jazz critic.

With that, on the table, as it were, let me be plainspoken and get down to business.

I love this CD.

Would I run out and buy it and add it to my overloaded shelves?

In a heartbeat!

Note that I am not holding back.

There are eleven tracks in the album and about fifty minutes worth of listening. If you order it – and I hope you do – you’ll be treated to off-the-beaten-musical-path renditions of pop standards and traditional tunes: Winter Wonderland, Oh Christmas Tree, Jingle Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Christmas Time is Here Again, I’ll be Home for Christmas, Joy To The World, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Let It Snow, Silent Night and the song that gives the album its title: Kim Pensyl’s Early Snowfall.

Pensyl, at the keyboard leads the peerless personnel for the recording: Rick VanMatre on saxes and flute, Rusty Burge on vibraphone, Michael Sharte on bass, John Taylor on drums – five musicians with class and musicianship to be reckoned with.

The music, all but the title song familiar to most of us, is given a fresh makeover by the quintet in arrangements by Pensyl that mine unpredictable harmonic twists and turns next to modal gestures. I never knew some of these tunes could sound as if they had been written in the 15th century!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas is delivered free of sentimental sap in a crystal clear session of show-and-tell by flute, vibraphone and reeds.

Joy To The World is stripped of any hip-hip-hurray religious bathos yet keeping its innate spirituality.

Having grown up in Cuba I can assure one and all that it never snows in that part of the world, but, if it did, Jule Styne’s Let It Snow would be a welcome anthem on the island provided it came in this hot version by Pensyl .

Pensyl’s gorgeous Early Snow is a ballad with a singable tune that cries out for words (which it probably has.)

The composer-keyboardist gets the album’s last musical word by casting a magic spell with Silent Night.

The engineering and production by Kim Pensyl and the CD’s classy packaging would make this a perfect Christmas gift for any music lover.

I already got mine.